Reviewed by Dr Jessica Gunawan and Physician Brandon Yew
5 Steps to Straighten a Mallet Finger
Published | 5 min read
A mallet finger is when the tip of the finger involuntarily bends inward towards the palm. Find out how to treat this injury.
Extensor tendons are fibrous cords that allow you to straighten your fingers and wrists. Injury in the top joint of your finger can cause a tear in this tendon, which connects the muscle to the finger bone. The result is a mallet finger where the finger’s tip bends inward towards the palm, unable to straighten.
Baseball players often end up with a mallet finger (also called baseball finger) because of the frequency and impact of catching fastballs half as fast as a helicopter. But anyone can get a mallet finger from all types of force or trauma.
Mallet Finger in TCM
In the absence of physical injury, internal imbalance due to pathogenic factors may cause a mallet finger, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Real Health Medical Senior TCM physician Brandon Yew explains, “Pathogenic factors can include Wind, Cold, Fire, Dampness and blood clots. These impede qi (vital energy, 气) and Blood (xue, 血) circulation within the Liver and Kidney meridian channels.”
Physician Yew adds, “In TCM, the Liver and Kidneys govern the sinews and joints, respectively. The functional disorders of the two organs can affect the proper functioning of the finger tendon and joints, potentially leading to a mallet finger.”
Treatments for Mallet Finger
The goal of mallet finger treatment is to correct the malfunctioning of the extensor tendon. Here are steps to take if you have a mallet finger.
1. Reduce swelling and inflammation
Apply an ice pack to the injury to reduce the inflammation. Keep the affected finger above the level of your heart to further ease the swelling. If the pain is unbearable, you can take over-the-counter pain medication like paracetamol or ibuprofen.
2. Put the finger in a splint
It’s best to ask a healthcare professional how to apply a splint on a mallet finger. A splint can keep the finger straightened until the tendon heals, which can take about six to eight weeks.
It’s also important to keep the finger dry and clean. Remove the splint to wash and dry the finger at least once daily. Avoid bending the joint by placing your finger flat on the table while cleaning. If your job requires using your hands, you should take time off or temporarily modify your work.
3. Seek physical therapy
Even with your finger in a splint, you should be able to bend and straighten the unaffected finger joints. Follow hand exercise instructions from your therapist to prevent stiffness.
4. Undergo acupuncture
A study published in Integrative Medicine Research showed that mini-scalpel acupuncture (a non-invasive acupuncture technique invented in China that uses a thicker and blunt instrument, not commonly practised outside China) improved hand osteoarthritis symptoms and helped reduce painful swelling.
Below is a list of localised acupoints on the hand that can help recovery from a mallet finger:
- He gu (LI4, 合谷)
- Zhong zhu (SJ3, 中渚)
- Shao fu (HT8, 少府)
- Lao gong (PC8, 劳宫)
- Nei guan (PC6, 内关)
- Wai guan (SJ5, 外关)
Here are some of the distal acupoints that address internal imbalances:
- San yin jiao (SP6, 三阴交): Dispels pathogens and boosts Liver and Kidneys to promote better functioning of the ligaments and joints.
- Tai xi (KI3, 太谿): Boosts Kidneys to promote better functioning of the joints.
- Tai chong (LR3, 太沖): Boosts Liver to promote better functioning of the sinews.
5. Try herbal medicine
TCM also uses herbs to strengthen the body, boosting the healing of the injury. For example, scientists have isolated 166 compounds from the large-leaf Gentian root (qin jiao, 秦艽) which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. They can help protect the Liver, Heart, and neurological health.
Formulas like Da Qin Jiao Tang (大秦艽汤) help regenerate yin and blood, nourish the Liver, and soothe the sinews, Physician Yew explains. It can complement the treatment of your mallet finger.
Physician Yew advises against self-medicating when treating a mallet finger. Instead, consult a doctor or a licensed and experienced TCM practitioner. When looking at a month of healing before you can use your finger again, it’s best to trust the experts for the best holistic approach for your injury.
- National Health Service (NHS), United Kingdom. 2020. Mallet finger. [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/mallet-finger/> [Accessed 18 October 2022]
- American Academy for Orthopaedic Surgeons. Mallet Finger (Baseball Finger). [online] Available at: <https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/mallet-finger-baseball-finger/> [Accessed 18 October 2022]
- American Society for Surgery of the Hand. 2020. Mallet Finger. [online] Available at: <https://www.assh.org/handcare/condition/mallet-finger> [Accessed 18 October 2022]
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- Integrative Medicine Research. 2019. The effect of miniscalpel acupuncture and splint treatment for joint deformity of hand osteoarthritis: a case report. [online] Available at: <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213422019300319> [Accessed 18 October 2022]
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2020. Use of Acupuncture for the Treatment of Sports-Related Injuries in Athletes: A Systematic Review of Case Reports. [online] Available at: <https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/17/21/8226/htm> [Accessed 18 October 2022]
- Phytomedicine. 2018. Botany, traditional use, phytochemistry, pharmacology, quality control, and authentication of Radix Gentianae Macrophyllae-A traditional medicine: A review. [online] Available at: <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S094471131830120X> [Accessed 18 October 2022]
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